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Published: April 3rd 2015
Whew, that was a whirlwind! I didn't have as much time in Monaco as I would have liked, for numerous reasons. And kinda like Gibraltar and Morocco, at least I can say I've been, now.
I decided to take it easy this morning. It didn't help that my mind woke up, ready to go, at 5:30AM. After an hour trying to coax it back to sleep, I succeeded, sleeping virtually until almost 9. I showered, got dressed, etc., until a little after 10, when I decided to see what I actually wanted to see in Monaco. I guess that was a bad sign. It's so small, though, I figured it would be easy to hit the highlights, and I could find out what those were once I got there. But just to be on the safe side, I did about 20 minutes of research and had an attack plan.
I walked to the Nice train station, arriving around 10:52. I know it was right after 10:50, because the train to Monaco had just left at that time. Alas, only a few minutes until another train, right? If you consider 105 minutes "only a few," then you are correct. Apparently,
I picked the biggest gap in service of the day to get to the station. Great. So, I made the best use of my time. I was hungry, and my favorite fast food place in France, Quick, had just started serving lunch, so I tried the new "Quick N Toasty" with fries and a drink. They don't have French fry sauce, so they gave me a packet of ketchup and a packet of mayonnaise to make my own. Fine, fine. It was ok. At least I got it taken care of, so now I'll have no regrets about missing Quick, since I won't be back to France on this trip. After that, I sought out the post office, since I had written my postcards in Andorra, but they never got sent. FYI, Andorra does not have its own postal service; it relies on France and Spain for the job, usually having both countries' post boxes next to each other in strategic locations. Anyway, I got to the Post Office and got those cards sent. Whew. Then I headed back to the station. I needed to buy a ticket for the first leg of my journey tomorrow, which you can't buy
online: Nice to Ventimiglia (Italy). The ticket that I already bought starts at Ventimiglia, so now I'm good. Then I still had about 40 minutes to wait for the train. It finally arrived at 12:30 - another packed 2nd-class experience. At least it was only 25 minutes.
The train station in Monaco is underground. Way underground. And there's only one of them. You take the stairs (which used to be escalators - maybe they'll work again, some day), then an elevator, and then another escalator, and once you get outside, you still have to walk up a few stairs to get to street level. It's immediately an amazing view, though some buildings on either side make it less than panoramic. All roads towards the city descend from there. There's a tourist office on the penultimate level of exiting the station, and they had nice maps for free. That's about all they're good for. I had looked at the country on Google maps, and even with this map, I thought this would be no problem. Wrong. You just cannot be ready for the labyrinthine roads that snake their way up the hillside from the coast. If the country were flat,
it might be easily doable in an afternoon. As it is, a day would not be sufficient. I considered doing one of those hop on/hop off buses that take you to all the major sights, but that was 19 euros, even with the student discount. No thanks. My only other option was to walk it. Let's just say I got my exercise in for the week, and now I don't feel so bad about not getting to hike around as much in Andorra.
I tried to make my way to the coast. On my way, I found many distractions. Some REALLY nice hotels; the Opera House, which inhabits the same building as the big casino; some manicured gardens; and plenty of insanely-expensive sports cars. Once I did make it to the coast, I took a leisurely stroll around some of the pedestrian streets, taking in the views and all the potential food choices. You just couldn't go wrong, except with the prices. It was difficult finding a meal for less than 10 euros. I found plenty of creperies, which I do enjoy, but I can't make a meal out of one crepe. I also set myself to finding some
Monegasque euros. I lucked into a 2-euro coin when I bought some postcards. I thought they were going to be like Andorra, where you had to go to a specialist to buy a set for way too much. I tried a bank, but that lady was pretty dismissive - "there's a philatelist down the street on the left...." I looked, but he was closed. He also was selling the same Andorra euro set that I bought (for 17 euros in Andorra) for 49 euros. Um, no. I checked the post office, and they obliged me with 3 of the 1-euro coins, but alas, that was a far as I got. Either places just said they didn't have them, or they recommended other places to look. So, my set is incomplete. Boo hoo.
I found the grandstands and starting line for the Formula One races down by the harbor. That was neat. It's a regular road at the moment, so you can just walk or drive on it like no big deal. I walked up to the Prince's Palace, and there were some really good views of the whole country from up there. The soldiers standing guard made for great photo ops, but mostly for the teenagers who couldn't stop giggling. Lots of small souvenir shops up there, with mostly crap.
Monaco has lots of stairs, if I've not already mentioned that. Some are small sets, from the street up to a building. Others would make high school athletic trainers envious - seemingly never-ending stairs that go halfway up the mountain. I went up some of these. They also have public escalators in key places, and even public elevators that will take you from the bottom to the train station.
Tourism is, of course, one of the major sources of income around the country, so they've made sure to capitalize on it. If something doesn't look perfect, it's because they're doing some construction on it to make it better. I believe that Monaco also has the highest population density in Europe, and you could definitely tell when 5 o'clock rolled around. It was a traffic nightmare, what with all the traffic diversions because of construction. I was glad to be taking the train home.
There's a lot to do in Monaco, and I saw many many families there, so I assume people think this is a kid-friendly place. Sure. Maybe there were things I didn't see. But all the glitz and glamour have survived from the days of Princess Grace. Ultimately, though, it's a tourist trap, with loads of shopping and photo ops; or, for people like me, another place to check off the list. And that's unfortunate. But I'd go back to Monaco before I'd go back to Gibraltar any day.
I'm back at my hotel now, obviously, if I'm writing this. But my feet were killing me, so I used this massive tub in my room to have a bubble bath with the shampoo dispenser in the shower. It felt so nice for those feet, and Lord knows, I needed it. Just relaxing, soaking my aches away, and listening to George Ezra (who is great, if you've not heard his music). I am on vacation, after all...
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